Those whose wisdom exceed their good deeds, to what may they be compared? To a tree whose branches are many but whose roots are few, and the wind comes and uproots it and overturns it on its face. But those whose good deeds exceed their wisdom, to what may they be compared? To a tree whose branches are few but whose roots are many, so that even though all the winds in the world come and blow against it, it cannot be stirred from its place.
Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah
Did you know that May Day used to be a major Jewish holiday? A century ago, when thousands of Jews were active in labor unions, Yiddish socialist schools and camps and communities were the backbone of a vibrant secular Jewish identity. While they may have believed in a kind of socialist messianic age, they also worked hard for what they called a sheyner un a bessere velt – a better and more beautiful world.
Of course, Jews in every generation has lived the reality that, in the words of Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel, “lo ha-midrash hu ha-ikar ayle ha-ma’aseh” – the interpretation is not the most important, but rather the deed. Communal charity funds, soup kitchens, and more testified to the importance of human action. One was even forbidden to seek divine forgiveness on Yom Kippur before first obtaining forgiveness from the person one had wronged.
Before modern times, of course, Jews were rarely as bold in their approach to “prayer” as Robert Ingersoll; they can be today!
A Leadership Program student at the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism put it very well when answering a Frequently Asked Question: “If Humanistic Jews don’t pray, what do you do?” She answered, “We DO.” In other words, we #choosetoACT as I’ve been encouraging everyone to do tomorrow in response to the National Day of Prayer.
While Jews may never have escaped from Egyptian slavery, the Exodus myth has nevertheless played a prominent role for freedom-seeking peoples. But rather than wait for divine deliverance, they should learn from the example and words of Frederick Douglass instead. What better example of the power of human beings to take charge of their own life for the better, and to change the world?
Members of Kol Hadash Humanistic Congregation are supporting a “Choose to Act” initiative this May 2 as our response to the declared “National Day of Prayer,” and we would love for EVERYONE to join in – post your good deeds that day on our Facebook page or on Twitter as #choosetoACT.